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All posts for the month November, 2011

Season of Light: Illumination

Published November 25, 2011 by Susan Woodward

  We are now entering my favorite time of the year… the season of light.  While there is light all year round, and candles are just as cheap an alternative to electric light in July, there’s something magical about preparing for the return of the natural light.   I always get a very cozy feeling as I prepare to set up my tree filled with white lights.  It’s hard to try to figure out why that same feeling just doesn’t come about during the other eleven months of the year.  Maybe it’s the heat of summer.  Maybe it has to do with the fact that the sun doesn’t go down till about nine in August. But there is certainly something about the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas that makes me long for quiet evenings filled with candles and a lighted tree.

I could always just leave the tree up… I have been known to delay taking it down till March before.  I just love that soft glow.

I am so not a fan of harsh light.  It’s unflattering, unromantic, and unsympathetic to the aging process.

I guess, though, what I am most looking forward to this Season of Light is illumination.  I want the internal light bulb to go on and show me how best to proceed through this labyrinth.   I have a very strong sense that I am at some sort of crossroad.  The past two years have been filled with so many changes, and those changes have been preparing me for something.  And it’s that “something” that I still can’t identify.

At this point, I am soon to be relieved of the last major material item in my life… my house.   And that is very freeing in a way.  In a country that defines us by our material possessions, I am letting go of the one thing that most people in America seem to want.  Property.  Their name on a deed somewhere that says this plot of the Earth is “Mine”.   But I really don’t care about that anymore.  I did.  I wanted to plant forever roots as badly as anyone else who ever wanted the American Dream… that illusion of success.  All it did was tie me down in a financial pit that was difficult to climb out of.  In pulling up those roots, I gave myself permission to be free.

But free to do what?  Now that’s the question of the hour.  What is it I want?  To write, yes… and I can do that anywhere.  To teach?  Well… I do love being in the classroom, I will say that.  But it is becoming more and more of a burden than the joy I used to feel.   It’s harder when class sizes are growing and trying to keep up with paperwork that is threatening to overwhelm me, and state demands that seem downright unfair to both teachers and students.   I am teaching writing when what I truly want to do is write myself… and that realization does weigh on me.  I teach students about The Hero’s Journey, and all the while I still wonder where my own journey will take me.  Those snippets of time that I carve out for myself when not grading papers or going to meetings seem to just fly by when I am in the middle of some other world… one of my creation.  I love delving into the internal world of my imagination because I am so often surprised by what I find there.

Still…. what am I really free to do?

That’s where I want my illumination.  I want to bring my internal world into the light.  But like any expectant mother longing for the birth of her child, there is a lot of fear involved in the birthing process.   While a mother worries about the health of her child, a writer (at least this writer) worries about how his work will be received in this world.

It’s true that I will not know if anyone reads these words or not unless there is some feedback… and it’s true that I am okay with that.  But my novel is another story.  I want it to live.  I want it to grow.  I want it to be loved and appreciated just like any other mother wants for her child.

And so I look to the light for guidance.   With my warm cozy candles and white tree lights, I will continue to write the story of Francis and allow the light to lead me along on her path.  And via her path, I hope to find my own way.  That is what I am waiting for this holiday season… this time of preparing for the return of the light.  I am anticipating its warmth and will allow it to wash over my spirit, illuminating my true path, whatever it is and wherever it will take me.   I have freed myself of most material goods that have weighed me down, and I am open to what life has to offer.

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Gratitude

Published November 25, 2011 by Susan Woodward

I’d mentioned before that two cards kept appearing in my readings.  I’ve already talked about The Hermit, and today I want to examine the Nine of Pentacles.  Both have to do with solitude… but the Nine adds the element of gratitude.

This card is gorgeous.  I love the colors and the flowing lines.  I especially love how, although the woman is alone, she seems not to be concerned about that.  Life springs out of her creative expression, and the warm colors suggest that she is comfortable in her solitude.  Purple is a color of creativity, while green is life… my two favorite colors in the world.  With the water-based conch shells, it suggests that her world and music are filled with emotion, and the fact that she is seated on a conch suggests that she is comfortable in her emotional state.  She holds her head high while admiring the fruit of her talent.  The roots of the tree spread out wide on the earth, as do the roots that seem to spring from the shell.  She is grounded.   The branches of the tree reach high into the Universe, suggesting that her music is not meant to be kept to herself, even though she is alone in composing it.  Her hands seem relaxed as they are poised above the keyboard, and I imagine that if I could see her face, it too would be in a peaceful state.

I want that.  If I must be alone for now, I want it to be a peaceful solitude.  I want life to spring from my creative endeavors, whether it comes from my novel, my guided visualizations, my poetry, my music, or my theatrical performances… I want to bring life to my art.

I also want to find that sense of solace from being alone.  What I wish is to be comfortable in my solitude instead of feeling lonely.  Going from a house full of people to an apartment by myself is still an adjustment, even after a year and a half.   Sometimes it’s just too quiet.  What I am attempting to do is fill that quiet with the words of the my characters and the sounds of the world I am creating in my novel.

Snape could never be in this picture… and that makes me feel sad for people like him in this world.  My heart goes out to those who have loved and lost because I have been there.  However, the most important thing I can do for myself is not to get stuck in old memories.  I am ready to make new ones, even if I have to do it alone.  Would I be willing to accept someone into my world?  Of course… but not simply to alleviate any loneliness I feel.  When and if I were to be with someone, it would have to be a coming together of two like souls.  Convenience is not an option; that’s too easy.   I want something that has time to blossom and grow, like the tree springing forth in the picture.   Someone who also has a creative spirit who will help feed that tree, and not allow it to wither and die away.

I did that.  I allowed my creative writing to wither away because someone else didn’t appreciate what I wanted to do.  I gave in to doing what he wanted and stepped back from the things that were really a part of my soul.   Meditation and a soul retrieval ritual helped me to reclaim that part of me, and I will not let it go again.   A life of creativity is what I am called to.

And so I will write.  I will continue to write here, even if no one ever reads these words.   Like the tree, I give these words to the Universe.  I am perfectly okay with simply sending them out there.  Who knows where they will land, if they even do?

Today, as the sun streams in through the windows this gorgeous day-after-Thanksgiving, I will write.  I will be filled with gratitude that I have been given the gift of time to do so as well as a creative spirit.  I shall fill the silence with soft music and allow my imagination to fly me to the world I am creating through my fingertips.   Perhaps one day the world will share this imaginative journey with me when I finally publish the fruits of my solitary labor.

“Nevermore”

Published November 16, 2011 by Susan Woodward

“Quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore.'”

This drawing is perfect on so many levels.  Snape most certainly could have been the speaker of Poe’s “The Raven”, pondering “weak and weary” over his memories of Lily.  And like the speaker of the poem, he is caught up in his painful memories from which he will recover “Nevermore”.  I love how the raven’s mouth is open as if he is reiterating “its only stock and store”; however, the repetition of the word is not what draws the narrator spiraling downward in his depression.  The bird can only say what it knows, and it is the narrator that is in charge of the “conversation” that ensues.

It’s like a “talking” doll that can only say, “Mama.”  When a child plays with a talking toy, it’s the child in charge of any “conversation” that takes place during playtime.  Fully knowing that the answer to whatever the child says will be “Mama”, the tone of the discourse will depend upon whatever the child says.   For example, when playing this kind of game, a child might say, “Who do you love?”, to which the doll would respond, “Mama.”  In this scenario, it’s a happy conversation, and the child continues in this thread.  The doll can only say what it’s programmed to say… nothing more.  Imagine how the tone of the conversation would change if the child asked, “Who makes me mad?” or “Who’s the meanest person on Earth?”  The doll will still say, “Mama.”  The whole situation then becomes something much darker… but not through the fault of the toy.

Now let’s look at the speaker of the poem.  He’s already depressed.  He’s lost “the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore” and has taken to shutting himself up in his room.  When the raven arrives, being able to speak only the word “Nevermore”, the outcome of the “conversation” with the bird lies solely with the narrator.  He asks leading questions all the while realizing that the bird can only utter that one word.  He even admits that it probably learned “that one word… from some unhappy master.”  Still, though, he chooses to ask those leading questions.  He asks if he will ever see Lenore.  He asks if there is “balm in Gilead” and if he will ever “clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”  With the repetition of “Nevermore”, he spirals further downward into his depression to the point that he will never recover and remains sitting in his room.  Imagine if he’d asked, “Will Lenore forget me in Heaven?” or “Will this pain be with me always?”  “Nevermore” would have then been a comforting reply, and he might have healed from his emotional wounds… but he doesn’t.  He chooses to ask the wrong questions, which does nothing more than to echo the despair he is already feeling.

Severus Snape is a perfect choice for the speaker of this poem.  He never got over Lily Potter.  His emotional life ended when she fell in love with James, and he harbored the pain of what he took as betrayal for the rest of his life. In spite of that “betrayal”, he still loved her.  When Lily died, Snape felt responsible for Voldemort finding her, and he carried that guilt with him as well.  This just added fuel to his obsession with her.  Like the speaker of Poe’s poem, Snape shut himself off and wallowed in his painful memories.  He went home each night to an empty room and ruminated about Lily in the same way the speaker clung to his memories of Lenore.  Neither ever healed from their lost love because neither could let go of the past.

So what does all this have to do with me?  Well, like the narrator and like Snape, I have also lost someone that I loved very deeply.   Similar to Snape’s feelings of betrayal when Lily fell for James, I was also betrayed… and in some ways, I still feel that pain of that betrayal.   As much as I want the memories to fade into oblivion, I seem to unconsciously whisper the name of my ex-fiance more often than I would like to admit.  It seems to come out of nowhere.  I’ll be driving, and I’ll spontaneously say his name aloud.  I’ll be turning over to go to sleep, and his name will creep from my lips.  But I do NOT want to end up like the speaker of the poem or like Snape.  I want to move forward and “forget this lost”…person. Or at least forget the pain I feel.

What I need to do in response to those spontaneous whispers of his name is to finish the sentence with a reminder of how I need to move forward.  I know now for sure that this relationship was not at all healthy for me in so many ways.  He has to live his life, and I have to live mine.  I cannot chain myself to the pain that the memories bring, and I certainly cannot fool myself into thinking that maybe I’ll be with him again.  I do not want to go backwards, and I also do not want to get stuck like Snape.  While it might seem a romantic notion to carry a torch for someone you’ve loved deeply and spend the rest of one’s life loving a memory, it’s not at all healthy.  I cannot do that to myself.  I cannot attempt to justify his behavior and forget how his betrayal destroyed any illusions I had left about us getting married.

What I can do is try to forgive.  I am trying to erase the anger and hurt that I still feel months later, but it’s not easy.  Like the narrator and like Snape, I loved passionately.   But I know that the love I felt for him will never bring me anything but more pain in the long run because I’d forgiven him so many times and taken him back after breaking up.  I rode that merry-go-round for nearly ten years, and it’s time I stepped off the ride for good.   I will not take up that “conversation” with myself that consistently repeats his name.  That bird will NOT remain “perched above my chamber door”, and I will NOT continuously make the wrong statements to myself to which my personal “raven” will reply.

Will I always feel like this?  Will the anger and hurt stay with me forever?  Will I always be alone?

Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

The Hermit, Severus, and Me

Published November 13, 2011 by Susan Woodward

One thing that I really enjoy is studying the symbolism of the Tarot and applying the journey of the Fool through the major arcana to my own journey.   Most recently, the Hermit card has been appearing quite frequently, so I decided to just stop and pay attention to it.

The first thing I did was just sit and LOOK at the image.  The deck I was using for my reading had the traditional depiction of the Hermit… an elderly man in a grey, hooded robe, holding a lantern in his right hand and a staff in his left.  He faces to the left, but his eyes are cast downward.   For me, I interpret this as one who is looking back on the past in contemplation.  He is shedding light on the past and is thinking about the path that has led him to this point.  Also, there is no one else in the picture… he is alone.   When I think of the word “hermit”, I think of someone who has made the conscious choice to isolate him/herself for whatever reason.

Ok… so this does seem to apply to me at the moment.  As I am still in my “desert state”, as I call it, I can relate to what I see in this card.  Before I make an attempt to move forward (which would be facing toward the right, as I interpret the cards), I do need to take a good look at where I have come from.  Contemplating on past actions and how they have led me to where I am at this moment is necessary if I am to take in the lessons of my journey so far.   I guess I am coming to a point where I am finally beginning to more embrace my solitude rather than being filled with loneliness.  This is something I’ve been struggling with for quite a while.

It wasn’t that long ago that my grown children set out on their own, leaving me to live by myself for the first time in my life (with the exception of a two month period right after I left my husband).    I also ended a nearly ten-year relationship which, truth be told, left me feeling lonely most of the time because we lived fifty miles apart.   I was actually more of the Saturday night girlfriend than anything else, it seemed, and was never going to go beyond that.   So I made the decision to break it off and begin to entirely rebuild my life as a woman on her own… a woman in transition.   That’s where the whole concept of the desert came from; truly living alone for the first time.  And with the frequent visit of the Hermit in my readings (as well as the 9 of Pentacles), it’s a message from the Universe to simply take a good contemplative look at the past and learn from it.  While there have been many mistakes (who doesn’t make them?), there have been just as many successes.  I am who I am right now because of the choices I’ve made.  Revisiting mistakes from this mind-set has been illuminating because I am trying very hard not to judge myself… I am just looking at things I’ve done and seeing how they have helped to create the person that I am.   And since I actually like who I am, I am basically reminding myself of the lessons I’ve learned from those mistakes.  Right now is a good time to revisit the lessons so that I do not repeat any behaviors that made me unhappy.   So, looking at the card, I see myself facing my past (to the left), illuminating my path (the lantern), and contemplating on the journey that has brought me to this place (the bowed head, downcast eyes, and walking stick).    And while the word “hermit” often carries a negative connotation, I am feeling that this is a very good place for me right now.  I’m very comfortable with the solitude and with the time for contemplation.

While I was spending time with this card, I decided to look at other artistic interpretations of The Hermit.  I am fascinated by the diverse representations of this concept of loneliness vs. solitude, but one in particular really struck me.

Another introspective tool I use is making connections to characters in the books I read.   When we read, everyone has a character that seems to stick out in our minds more than any of the others.  Most often, it is the Hero or protagonist of the tale.   However, there are instances when a secondary character really seems to get under our skin, and when that happens to me, I examine the character closely to see what connection I have with him/her.  I believe that the connection happens because that particular character exhibits traits that resonate somewhere inside me.   I’ve already spoken of how Dorothy’s companions resonate parts of myelf: intellect, heart, and courage.  This time I want to focus on the one character from the Harry Potter series that I have felt a strong connection to right from the very start: Severus Snape.

Right from Snape’s first dramatic entrance into his Potions class at Hogwarts, I felt a strong connection.  He strides in with a confidence that also screams arrogance, but he has such a strong presence about him.  He expects correct answers from his students, and he is unnecessarily hard on Harry Potter.   He reminds me of myself in my own classroom.  I have very high expectations for my students, and I also have a tendency to be dramatic.  While I always try to be conscious of how I speak to students, I do have a tendency to be overbearing and, yes, arrogant, at times.   And do you know what?  I am actually very okay with that.  Like Snape, who does not care if he is liked by his students or not, I am there to do a job and to do it to the best of my ability.

by Ellygator

I see Severus Snape as the misunderstood loner.  He forms very few personal connections because of how he was treated in his past, first by his parents, and then by other students when he was in school.  Like Snape, I built walls around myself as a form of protection.  I spent most of my life feeling unloved and unappreciated, being told I was stupid, of a host of other things I don’t care to mention here.  Inside, I felt alone.   I cried when I “saw” Snape’s memories of how James Potter bullied him because I remember what that felt like for me.  I understand why he is harshly assertive in his classroom; it’s his defense against being told he was nothing.  It’s his way of proving his worth… I get that because I guess I do it myself.   I am dramatic in the classroom and on stage because it’s my way of saying, “Hey… I’m here!”  And even though we (Snape and I) are surrounded by people–he with his students at Hogwarts and the other teachers, and me with my own students and children– we both have a tendency to feel disconnected.  Many times in my life, I have felt alone in a sea of faces.   In that way, we are both like the Tarot’s Hermit.   We choose to stay close to ourselves, and we both ruminate on the past.  I guess his character speaks to me most because I actually do not wish to live my life entirely like his.  I definitely understand how he came to be… and I see many of his traits when I look in the mirror.  But what I do not want to do is to hold so tightly on to the past that it stagnates my present.  Snape never loved again after being jilted by Lily.  And even though he had been angry with her, his love for her dictated how he lived the rest of his life.  While that may be a totally romantic notion (and I have to admit that I cried my eyes out when I “saw” his memories of Lily), it was also very self destructive.   I too have loved passionately, and like Snape, it didn’t work out and I was devastated.

But unlike Severus, I don’t want to carry a torch for someone who chose not to love me.  I don’t want to hang on to the memories of what we used to have instead of facing the reality of what eventually did happen.  I don’t want to stare into the Mirror of Erised for the rest of my life, looking at shadows of what can never be, no matter how much emotion I feel.   By day, Snape lived the effects of his shattered dreams through his harsh words and sometimes rash behaviors (joining the Death Eaters).   By night, he ruminated in his dream world of what he wished he could have had with Lily and the guilt he felt about his role in her death.   His dreams ate away at him; instead of taking the lessons by looking at the past and moving onward, he got stuck.  He never left the Hermit stage… at least not on a personal emotional level.   As much as I love the character, I do not wish to be entirely like him.  I admire his courage, I enjoy his cocky arrogance in the classroom, I am in awe of his intellect… but I feel pity for his stunted emotional growth.  He could not let go of the pain of the past, and he could not move forward.

While I may be using this Hermit/Desert time to assess my journey, I fully intend to move forward with my life.  I will look at what has come to pass, but I will not hang on to it… at least the parts that do not serve me well to hang on to.  Memories are treasures, but hoarding ALL memories–like the bad ones– is not going to be good for me in the long run.

Student Writing: Sharing in the Journey of the Hero

Published November 2, 2011 by Susan Woodward

You know, it really warms my heart when my students get into a class assignment.  I’ve just spent the past hour “chatting” with many of my students on our Hero’s Journey website, and it’s been great.  And reading their posts on the 60 Day Sojourn has made me feel as if I am connecting with them in some way beyond just teaching them how to construct a variety of sentence structures or how to analyze a work of literature.  This project is connecting to them as individuals on a journey.

We are the heroes of our own life stories; how those stories ultimately play out will be based on our reactions to life’s challenges and the decisions we make.   Using references to mythology, literature, television, and film, we illustrate how the Hero’s Journey permeates not only our culture, but all cultures across time and geographic location. From there, we will explore how the pattern is part of the human condition and how it can be used as a tool to examine our own lives.

After referencing the connections to the stories of humanity (myths, etc), they will listen to  guided visualizations that will allow them to examine their own journeys through life. From there they will respond to introspection questions that make the project personal for them.

I sincerely hope that all my students will be open to sharing their journeys with the rest of us.   In examining ancient and recent literature as well as exploring our own life patterns, it will help us to see that we are all connected through our stories. We all have goals, trials to face, dragons to slay, and our Ultimate Boon awaits us for a job well done!

The culmination of the long term project will be to write their own heroic tales and have them read by, not only others in the class, but by other members of our site.  The work of Joseph Campbell is my passion, and I hope to see it live on through the work of my own students.   Each year, we publish an anthology of the top-voted stories (the students do the voting, not me)… and I look forward to what they will come up with this year!!

I’d like to invite anyone who happens to wander across this page to check out my students’ work!  (Just don’t spam my page, please… that really detracts from what the students are doing and I don’t appreciate that).  You can find us at http://herosjourney.ning.com

These are our previous anthologies that the students have produced.   They are published authors, complete with an ISBN number, whose stories are available to the world online through Amazon, Lulu, and Barnes and Noble!  I am very proud of their work!  And I am already so looking forward to what this year’s students will write!  Based on their replies so far, we are in for a treat!

 

by The Immortal Keepers

by the Tenders of the Embers

by Song of the Phoenix

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